Mandatory.com is a website that features “funny stuff, viral videos, must-read features, and a whole lot of awesome,” according to its Twitter bio. It also allegedly features wage theft and retaliation against its workers.
On Wednesday, Donna Dickens, who edited for Mandatory’s film and TV channel, ComingSoon, posted on Twitter that she’d been fired in a companywide Slack channel by Mandatory vice president Anthony Severino. The reason? Asking why she hadn’t been paid for work she had completed for the company. (Mandatory, which aims to “inspire and inform today’s young male,” is itself a subsidiary of Evolve Media, which also owns a network called TotallyHer.)
According to emails obtained by Splinter, ComingSoon executive editor Spencer Perry emailed the staff of ComingSoon—which Dickens told Splinter is all freelance—last Friday to inform them that their payments (including Perry’s) wouldn’t be arriving on time. On Tuesday, another email came, explaining that the delay was apparently due to the finance team “moving into a new office.” On Wednesday morning, yet another email came saying the payments would be delayed into next week.
Dickens took her complaints to the companywide Slack channel, where Severino unceremoniously fired her for asking.
Later, on Twitter, Severino posted the screenshots leading up to this exchange, which show Dickens asking for an explanation as to why the payments were late. Severino described it as a “making a stink in the company-wide channel.”
Following Dickens’ firing, ComingSoon writer Christian Long was fired by Severino as well, also for apparently not reaching out to Severino via his preferred platform. “He came in [to the Slack channel] and started trying to talk down to people like he’s King Shit of Fuck Mountain, saying we were insubordinate and whatever,” Long told Splinter via phone. “I thought, ‘What the hell? I’m not going to let a guy who pays me pennies talk down to me.’”
Severino then went through that time-honored petition of digging himself deeper into a hole, getting ratioed to hell for being a horrible boss, and then ultimately locking his account.
Splinter reached out to Severino via Twitter and email, and will update if we hear back. A call to Evolve Media’s Los Angeles headquarters went to voicemail.
Dickens told Splinter via Twitter DM that she’d worked at the site since last year, and that almost all of the editorial staff was freelance. It’s difficult to know how many people at the company have been affected by the payment fiasco, she explained, because the sites are all “silo’d” off from each other. A different Mandatory contractor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a missed payment has happened at least once in the past few years.
“I know this has happened before, I was warned when I started that sometimes the money is just late for no discernible reason,” Dickens told Splinter.
Long said that this is the first instance where he hasn’t been paid on time since he began working at the company last year. “It was ridiculously low pay but it was money you could count on to hit your account at the end of the month,” Long said. “That’s why this particular thing was so shitty.”
Long described the Mandatory sites as a “content farm” that was massively underpaying its workers. For 120-150 posts a month, he said, he was paid $500, which he said averaged out to about $5 a post; recently, he said, he got a raise to $600 a month. More recently, he was told that if he went to an event or junket for a story, he could count it twice on his invoice, for a total of $10 for that story.
As of publication time, both Long and Dickens told Splinter that no other representatives of the company have reached out to them following their respective terminations. As for Dickens, she said she’s open to talking to a lawyer about her experience at Mandatory.
“A colleague just shared a [Department of Labor] wage and hour division person with me and I’ll be reaching out to her to see if there’s any recourse,” she told Splinter, adding: “but I’m not holding my breath since I was ‘permalance.’”
Update, 5:30 p.m. ET: In an email to Splinter, Severino declined to comment further, but stressed that the fired workers were contractors rather than employees of the company.
Correction, 9/20/19, 8:11 a.m. ET: This piece has been updated to clarify that one of Splinter’s sources was a contractor for Mandatory, not an employee.